Note:  Because Guerin’s work here encompasses a lot- especially within the confines of a mere 159 pages- I’m offering my review of this text in three, possibly four parts, to coincide with the format of the book (Part 1: The Basic Ideas of Anarchism, Part 2: In Search of a New Society, Part 3: Anarchism in Revolutionary Practice, and perhaps a part 4, which would cover Guerin’s “By Way of Conclusion” plus his post-script “May 1968″ if I don’t cover those sections in part 3).  Breaking the text down into three (or four) parts will give me the added luxury of fleshing more out of each one, and expanding and interjecting my own views where they agree or differ.

While in Part 1 of Anarchism the base beliefs of the anarchist, especially in regards to what one stands for as an individual and towards individuals, was fleshed out by Guerin succinctly and straight-forward the task for Part 2 proves a trickier one.  Anarchism comes in many forms, and while all libertarians are more easily held together by their views towards liberty, what a truly free society would look like (not to mention how to get there) isn’t quite so.  Readers familiar with integral theory- and my stance on integral politics- may note the very beginning of this section:

Because anarchism is constructive, anarchist theory emphatically rejects the charge of utopianism.  It uses the historical method in an attempt to prove that the society of the future is not an anarchist invention, but the actual product of the hidden effects of past events…. However harmful government may have been, it contained its own negation.  It was always “a phenomenon of collective life, the public exercise of the powers of our law, an expression of social spontaneity, all serving to prepare humanity for a higher state.  What humanity seeks in religion and calls “God” is itself.  What the citizen seeks in government… is likewise himself- it is liberty.” (p.41)

And Guerin begins his trip through the visions of a society based on anarchist principles by noting the need for organization:

Anarchist theory does not see itself as a synonym for disorganization.  Proudhon was the first to proclaim that anarchism is not disorder but order, is the natural order in contrast to the artificial order imposed from above, is true unity as against the false unity brought about by constraint.  Such a society “thinks, speaks, and acts like a man, precisely because it is no longer represented by a man… because, like every organized living being, like the infinite of Pascal, it has its center everywhere its circumference nowhere.”  Anarchy is “organized, living society” “the highest degree of liberty and order to which humanity can aspire.”

And to help illustrate, Guerin quotes Malatesta:

Under the influence of authoritarian education given to them, they think that authority is the soul of social organization and repudiate the latter in order to combat the former… Those  anarchists opposed to organization make the fundamental error of believing that organization is impossible without authority.  Having accepted this hypothesis they reject any kind of organization rather than accept the minimum of authority. (p. 42)

And then Voline:

A mistaken- or, more often, deliberately inaccurate- interpretation alleges that the libertarian concept means the absence of all organization.  This is entirely false: it is not a matter of “organization” or “nonorganization” but of two different principles of organization… Of course, say the anarchists, society must be organized.  However, the new organization… must be established freely, socially, and, above all, from below.  The principle of organization must not issue from a center created in advance to capture the whole and impose itself upon it but, on  the contrary, it must come from all sides to create nodes of coordination, natural centers to serve all these points. (p. 43)

As the history of the development of the anarchist’s vision for society is laid out, Guerin walks us through the French Revolution, where worker’s associations sprang up organically in Paris and Lyons in 1848.  Proudhon considered this development to be far more interesting- and revolutionary- than the political revolution elsewhere.  Most importantly, he noted, the self-management of worker’s happened without a theory, a preached doctrine, or State program- as the authoritarian systems which owned and managed the factories and shops broke down, it was the natural inclination of the worker’s themselves to self-manage.  Proudhon, and later Bakunin (and me, too) saw it right for every individual who labored for something to have an indivisible share of the product (be they goods, services, etc), and that generally its best for everyone to have a near complete understanding of all aspects of the work and to share in the various tasks; for Proudhon and Bakunin and many others, this means especially the hardest, heaviest, or dirtiest parts of the job.  I must say, there is a limit to the degree that I see this as realistic in the Twenty-First Century.  Extreme specialization has its drawbacks, the least of which is when society allows for a person or group of people to hold a monopoly on a given set of information, if that knowledge is particularly vital that person or group has coercive and manipulating degree of power over others.  While pay, along with managerial roles (hell, along with all roles) would be decided in a directly democratic manner, Prodhon (and Bakunin and me) see that one’s pay should be “proportionate to the nature of the position held, the degree of skill, and responsibility carried.” (p. 46).  But if I’m the only guy around who knows how to sow I can demand my skill and responsibility (I’ve got to clothe the whole lot of you) are vast, and then wield a disproportionate amount of power.  However, it doesn’t make sense to under-utilize people’s natural inclination or skill-set; I work well with numbers and have no problem at a desk- other people hate numbers, and consider working at a computer dreadful.  A libertarian society, I think, should include ample education and opportunity on all fronts and should encourage a diversity of jobs and skills and interests at the individual level- but ultimately I think some of the anarchists’ opinions of shared labor are ill-equipped for the post-industrial workforce. 

Guerin points out here that there are a number of ideas that have been put forward by anarchists towards answering the question of how a libertarian society could be arranged.  Some showed their inability to truly have enough vision and imagination of heart to conceive of how society could be planned freely: as Malatesta points out above, the education system (along with our parents, religions, etc) have done a thorough job at indocternating us to internalize authoritarian methods.  Some have suggested a complete equalization of wages imposed on labor by society at large; others have fallen into the pre/trans fallacy and urged for a return to primitivist society- complete with the abolition of currency and a pure barter system (I’m not at all against bartering, but the complexities of modern economies make it a method ill-prepared to provide for the life of post-modern humans).

Though Prodhon and Bakunin both found time to lay-bare their ideas for what a communist society could look like

…the two founders of anarchism  were anxious not to lay down a rigid pattern of society prematurely.  They wanted to leave the self-management associations the widest choice in this matter…. they stressed that in the ideal system of their choice “labor would produce more than enough for all” and that “bourgeois” norms of remuneration could only be replaced by specifically “communist” norms when the era of abundance had set in, and not before.  In 1884 Malatesta, drafting the program for a projected anarchist international, admitted that communism could be brought about immediately only in a verylimited number of areas and, “for the rest,” collectivism would have to be accepted “for a transitional period.” (p. 51)

Quoting Malatesta:

For communism to be possible, a high stage of moral development is required of the members of society, a sense of solidarity both elevated and profound, which the upsurge of the revolution may not suffice to induce.  This doubt is the more justified in that material conditions favorable to this development will not exist at the beginning. (p. 51)

All of these ideas, and the interactions between free associations and actual State’s (capitalist and socialist) were soon to be tested in the real world, alongside anarchist ideas about competition, trade unions, social planning, commues, and much more.  In Part 3, Guerin looks at the anarchist’s “internationalism” (in the late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth, this pretty much meant Europe) and the revolutions first in Russia, then the Ukraine, Italy, and Spain.

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